"By Aeroplane to Pygmyland" Accounts of the 1926 Smithsonian-Dutch Expedition to New Guinea

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Journal of Matthew Stirling
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September 28, 1926 : Tombage

September 28

We ate breakfast by candlelight this morning in chilly air that made the hot coffee relished as I have not relished it since coming to the Indies. I planned to start as soon we could see, with Oolungdow, leaving the other three to watch our camp in the garden. When dawn was breaking the head man of the village appeared and I asked him to come with us to Mutaba. He shook his head and indicated his rheumatic legs which may have been all right as he was past his prime. Oolungdow and I then went to the men's house and I went in. It was at once evident that overnight their attitude had changed. There was one man who was most unfriendly from the first, who scornfully refused our presents and refused to be measured. Yesterday he suggested that we return at once to Tombe and come back with cowries and knives, then see the snow mountains. During the night he had worked on the others and changed their ideas. They {p. 272} refused to show us the trail and made all sorts of gestures of distaste, among other things saying it was too far and that we would be killed by enemies. I assured them that if we saw the snow we would return and the others would come to see it also, but if we did not we would not come back this way but would go up the Nogullo. This ultimatum was greeted with boos and cat calls and only increased their unfriendly attitude and they indicated that we had worn out our welcome and the sooner we returned the better. I tried to prevail upon our guide of yesterday but although I could see he was still our friend and would like to do it, he had been overruled by the majority. Seeing argument was futile I went out of the house and decided that we two would try to find the trail, or make one. Our Papuan guide came out after me and went through a lot of contortions which indicated that he could not go. In a last effort, Oolungdow gave him his shirt, greater friendliness than which no man can show. Our friend almost wept as he handed it back, but the Dyak told him he could keep it and we started off alone on a trail that led from the village in the direction we wished to go. However it soon died out and we began a desperate struggle cutting and tunnelling through dense undergrowth which was soaking wet. Crawling up small rocky rivulets through the jungle and otherwise putting in a couple of thoroughly disagreeable and exhausting hours, the only result was that we got lost. When I saw it was useless to proceed farther in this manner, we began to hunt for the trail on which to return. Oolongdow went around in a big circle and finally found it. While we were on this mountainside, we saw a curious big animal of which we had only a glimpse. {p. 273} It gave voice in a series of loud whistling grunts and loped up the hillside. It was dark in color with white markings, but more I could not see. It may have been a large variety of kangaroo but I don't think it was. We reached camp at about 9 A.M. having been gone about four hours and ran into a curious scene that I didn't know what to make of. Our three men were breaking camp, preparatory to starting down the trail on our return. All of the natives were gathered around and there was a curious tenseness in the air. Standing by a big log about twenty-five yards from our tent were three men with their bows and arrows. Back of our camp, the same distance away from them, was the visitor from Towase. From this short range the three men by the log were shooting arrows at him, and when he had a chance he was returning their shots. However he was kept so busy watching them, that he had to shoot hastily and was not so accurate as they. The three shot one at a time, taking careful aim and drawing the arrow to its full length. The black faced Towase man would crouch tensely facing the bowman and dodge the arrow which was only a fraction of a second in reaching him. Immediately one had shot the second would start taking aim, shoot and then the third. Between shots the Towase man would occasionally take a hasty shot himself. The aim of the Tombage man was good and practically every arrow touched the living target. I saw six fired. Three glanced off of his back, one off his head and one penetrated the wad of hair nets on the side. Our three {p. 274} men said this had been going on for ten minutes before our arrival. I didn't want to interfere with any ceremony, but I didn't want to stand by and see murder committed either, so I created a diversion by handing out presents to our now unfriendly hosts. Being now ready to start, we shouted our heartiest "Wau!" and amid a stony silence took to the trail and I presume the interrupted shooting went on. We had a hard time locating the proper trail leaving the village as in the neighborhood were many, leading in all directions {*}. However, we finally found it and started our first steep descent. Here Tomanpalan, one of the two Dyaks[,] fell from the trail and injured his knee quite badly, making a gash about four inches long and very deep. This is one hell of a place for such a thing to happen. We have a first aid kit with bandages and antiseptics. As the wound opened very wide and bled badly, I stitched it with a needle and thread and dressed it. His load we divided among the four of us, as he will have work enough in simply bringing himself along this trail. Later in the morning, the other Dyak got two bad cuts on the foot which should put him on the hospital list too, but it can't be. To add to our difficulties, Shorty has developed a "Charley Horse" and lost the nail from one big toe. The soldier and I, who are wearing shoes have nothing worse than sore toes from chafing but our shoes are cut to pieces and won't last much longer. About noon we met a pygmy man and boy on the trail, whom we had seen before at Tombe. {p. 275} They were very friendly and gave us a lot of roasted chestnuts which were fine eating. In spite of our crippled condition we made good progress and reached our camp of the 25th in the bamboo thicket at the same time as the rain; where, after eating, an hour or so was spent in dressing foot and leg wounds. This region is surely the home of paradise birds. Today I saw two or three of a big variety new to me. Their calls can be heard almost continuously as we hike along.

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